Improving Route 32

Howard County: Connector road should be widened, but other steps must be taken to thwart sprawl.

April 02, 1999

A FINAL decision on whether to widen Route 32 between Route 108 and Interstate 70 will be made this summer by the State Highway Administration. Despite well-reasoned arguments against making the road wider, it is the best course to improve traffic flow and safety.

Concern that making the highway easier to travel will increase development is legitimate. However, the County Council holds the power through zoning restrictions to ensure that widening Route 32 doesn't thwart Smart Growth.

The highway administration has been studying the Route 32 problem for four years. Even if it approves the project this summer, it will take another four years to finish the job. It's time to act.

Western Howard County has mushroomed in population with commuters who daily clog Route 32. Consequently, accidents increased from 91 in 1995-1996 to 144 in 1997-1998. Traffic is projected to rise on this section of Route 32 from 18,300 a day in 1997 to 29,900 by 2020. The highway must be made safer.

The highway administration considered three options. One -- re-paving and resurfacing -- would have little impact. The two remaining options call for widening a nine-mile section of the highway from two to four lanes. With seven interchanges, the cost would be $161 million.

Without an interchange at Nixon's Farm, a private farm-turned-catering facility that draws 27,000 customers a year, the cost would be $147 million.

Complaints by nearby residents that a bigger road will increase noise have merit. But that problem is a result of shortsighted county officials having allowed developers to build houses too close to a highway that they knew might have to be expanded to handle the development. The county must do a better job restricting future development in the corridor -- or it will find that a wider Route 32 becomes inadequate down the road, too.

Pub Date: 4/02/99

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